A map showing settlements in Grand Pre, the Gaspereau Valley, along the Cornwallis River, in Canard and in the Canning-Pereau area, dated 1714, indicates the Acadians worshipped at three churches in Kings County. In his Kings County history, however, A. W. H. Eaton only mentions two churches, in the parishes along the Canard River and at Grand Pre.
“Ecclesiastically” Eaton writes, “the large district of Minas was divided into two parishes, St. Joseph at Riviere aux Canards and St. Charles, at Grand Pre.” Each place “had a wooden church with a tower and a bell,” Eaton said. There is also a line in Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, which refers to the Grand Pre church and its bell which “from the belfry softly the Angelus sounded.”
There is a bit of a mystery about the bell of St. Charles church, however. Despite the historical mention by Eaton, it is not known for sure that a bell existed. And if it did exist and once sounded the Angelus as Longfellow states, what became of the bell is not known. All the churches in Minas were put to the torch during the expulsion, along with the houses, barns, mills and smaller outbuildings of the Acadians. It’s possible that if the St. Charles church bell existed, it was either destroyed in the fire, removed and hidden by the Acadians and since lost, or taken by New England soldiers.
All of these possibilities are being investigated by a committee called Les Amis de Grand-Pre (the Friends of Grand Pre) a volunteer group who in their words are “supporters of Acadian activities.” I spoke recently with a member of the group who said that in looking for a project for this year, Les Amis decided to determine if a bell existed, and if it did, to determine what became of it.
“Since at the time, most of the churches in Acadia had some sort of signalling device connected with worship times,” Les Amis member Ken Belfountain said, “it’s possible there was a bell in the Grand Pre Church. The population of Grand Pre was large enough at the time (of the expulsion) to have something like that.”
Belfountain said there are several theories about what might have happened to the bell, presuming it existed. But, Belfountain said, “we haven’t found any records that state the bell was even made. No doubt it would have been made in France. We’re looking at that angle but nothing substantial has been found there either.”
An Internet search for information on the Grand Pre bell is being spearheaded byanother committee member, Roger Hetu. Not surprisingly, the Internet abounds with information about the churches of the Acadians and there are references to some of them having bells. However, Mr. Hetu’s research has failed to turn up evidence that the Grand Pre church, or the church in the Canard area, had bells.
One of the leads being followed is the fact that in California an “Evangeline bell” exists and it may be of Acadian origin. Over time Mr Hetu and Les Amis de Grand-Pre will determine if this is the bell that once called the Acadians to worship at their seaside church in Grand Pre.